Was Flight MH370, the Malaysia Airlines plane missing since March 8, the first victim of a remote-controlled cyber-hijacking, with some super hacking genius actually commandeering the plane’s systems by cell phone?
Of all the far-fetched theories as to what became of the Flight MH370 plane, the cyber-jacking idea may not even be the least likely. The theory, that gives new meaning to the requirement that passengers shut off their cell phones before a plane takes off, was proposed Saturday by British anti-terrorism expert Sally Leivesley, a former science adviser to Britain’s Home Office.
The current thinking on the fate of Flight MH370 on the part of officials both in Malaysia and in Western intelligence services is that the plane was deliberately flown off of its set course — in effect, stolen.
But the focus of the investigation has been toward persons on board the flight, with the most likely perpetrators now thought to be one or both of the Flight MH370 pilot and co-pilot.
If not one of the pilots, investigators are scrutinizing all of the Flight MH370 passengers to see if anyone on board had expertise in aviation. But Leivesley suggests that the sophistication required to take over the plane requires knowledge of technology as well as flying.
“There appears to be an element of planning from someone with a very sophisticated systems engineering understanding,” said Leivesley, explaining her Flight MH370 theory. “This is a very early version of what I would call a smart plane, a fly-by-wire aircraft controlled by electronic signals.”
Leivesley told Britain’s Sunday Express newspaper that the possibility of a remote controlled airliner hijacking was discussed at science conference in China last year — and that the scientists concluded that the easiest way into a plane’s computers is through the same system that shows passengers pay-per-view movies on tiny seat-back screens.
“What we are finding now is that it is possible with a mobile phone to initiate a signal to a preset piece of malicious software, or malware, in the computer that initiates a whole set of instructions,” Leivesley told the paper. “It is possible for hackers, be they part of organized crime or with government backgrounds, to get into the main computer network of the plane through the inflight, on-board entertainment system. If you have got any connections whatsoever between the computing systems, you can jump across and you can get into the flight critical system.”
Whether the in-flight entertainment system in the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 Boeing 777-200 was cross-connected with the plane’s critical systems is not something anyone has yet commented upon publicly.
German security expert and former pilot Hugo Teso, in April of last year, demonstrated a cell phone app that he said could generate code to penetrate an airliner’s system. He called the app PlaneSploit.
As investigators continue to probe how Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was taken off of its course, possibly to land at an unknown location, they will likely be asking Teso about his PlaneSploit app.